Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Aquaman and his Aquanauts

We had a grand adventure this weekend. So grand, in fact, that it took me a few days after returning to be up for posting anything about it. I can now report that The Redhead, Thing 1, and Thing 2 are certified SCUBA divers. A milestone. Aquaman and I are so very proud.

Aquaman and his Aquanauts

When you're married to a marine biologist, SCUBA diving is required. Aquaman and I spent our honeymoon diving in Belize. The first vacation we ever took together was to go diving in Cozumel. 

A lot has changed since I was certified in 1992. I took SCUBA for a P.E. credit at Texas A&M. Aquaman was one of the Divemasters for the class. I might have been his favorite student. I haven't been diving in many years, so I was a little nervous about this trip. But the location, Balmorhea State Park, is perfect for a nervous diver. It is the world's largest spring-fed swimming pool and has amazingly clear water. San Solomon Springs is the source of this magic in the middle of the Texas desert.  

Because Aquaman took the lead on this certification business for the boys, they just assumed that I was clueless about the sport. And it's a fair assumption. I have certainly demonstrated my ineptitude concerning sailing. They remind me of this often, especially now that they are taking sailing classes (but that's another topic for another post). 

As the time for this trip approached, the boys had lots of questions - all of which they directed at Aquaman - considering me useless. 

"What will they make us do on our checkout dive?"
"Will we have to clear our masks?"
"Will we get to buddy breathe?"

I realized that of course these children o'mine had never seen me dive - how could I dive when someone had to be watching them???? My most recent dives (still several years ago when we lived on the Texas coast) involved getting babysitters for their much younger selves or farming them out on playdates so that I could get away for a few hours with Aquaman offshore. 

So it was with much surprise that the boys reacted when Aquaman casually mentioned that I had been "narked" while diving at depths over 120 feet in Belize's Blue Hole. Thing 1 and Thing 2 both asked, "What?" simultaneously. Incredulously. The Redhead looked at me and said, "Wait. You've been diving that deep?" 

So sweet. 

"Yep," I said proudly, puffing out my chest a little at my seat at the dining table. Finally...some respect!

"Wow. Y'all used to be cool."

Cue the deflate button.

Nothing like a comment from a teenager to keep you humble. 

Still, the boys were pretty impressed when I produced my dive card. Mostly because it's over 20 years old.

1992 was a very long time ago...

And I must provide more proof of my previously cool life.

That's called a "giant stride" entry, fellas.

Cozumel. 1993.
So glamorous. Belize. Honeymoon. 1996.

Aquaman makes it look easy. Belize. 1996.

Balmorhea (pronounced Bal-mor-ay) is no easy day trip from the metroplex - nor from anywhere, really. Even though we pulled the boys out of school early on Friday, we still didn't get on the road until 4:00 p.m. and didn't make it there until almost 1:00 a.m. You know what never got old? Listening to the navigation app periodically announce that we were however-many miles from Bal-mor-ee-ah (like diarrhea). Snorts and chuckles all around. Every. Time. 

We fell into bed and were shocked the next morning to look out the window and see the Davis Mountains. We were oblivious to their presence driving in the dark. 

The view from our room.

You can camp or stay in one of the really cool motel rooms, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I highly recommend staying in the rooms. Known as San Solomon Springs Courts, they are adobe-style and were built in the 1930s. Totally worth it.

Our suite.

Of course, our accommodations were still not adequate for The Wrecking Crew, who abhor sharing a bed. There were 3 queen-size beds in our suite. This was not enough. Thing 1 refused to share a bed with anyone and instead announced he would sleep on the floor. The concrete floor.

"You shared a womb for 9 months! You can't share a bed for two nights?" I screeched.

"I don't remember that! It doesn't count!" The boy was not giving in.

Aquaman took pity on him and helped him make a pallet in the closet. Seriously. That's where he slept.

Nincompoop accommodations.

But on to the diving. 

The main length of the pool.
The elusive Thing 1. Rarely photographed.

Parents thrilled to have made the drive without killing anyone.

Things went pretty smoothly. Other students in the class had to cancel at the last minute, so the boys ended up being the only ones on the checkout dive with three instructors. That's known as man-on-man defense in my book. A preferred strategy.

Getting the wetsuit on is your first challenge.

The zipper goes in the back, son.

I like to call this one "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Diver."

Aquaman and Thing 2.

Aquaman and Thing 1.

The one who shivers most is out first.

Aquanaut 1.

Aquanaut 2.

The original Aqualad.

As a parent, I am sometimes taken aback by how small our children still are. We so often fixate on how big they are getting - remarking that we can't believe they're teenagers or that they've already grown out of whatever clothes we bought them two months ago. But sometimes? I am struck by how small they still are. This picture of Thing 2 captures that. He is concentrating on his tank and regulator and properly detaching one from the other. But you know what I see? His little body. His little sunburned hands. How young he still is.

Little man.

Okay, okay. No crying!

Balmorhea is a special place. Aquaman and I were here once before in 1995 - recently engaged, still in graduate school. His major professor at Texas A&M and other grad students were involved in research with the two endangered species of fish that exist in the artesian springs: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. We camped all around this area and I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Dreams while the rest of them did fishy things. This trip made me think of Kingsolver and her fantastic work. I fell in love with her on this trip and have read everything she has written since. It seemed fitting, then, that we returned here almost 20 years later with our own three children.

A nice little surprise was renting from the local diveshop, Funky Li'l Diveshop. It just so happens that it's Aggie owned and operated. Whoop!

An Aggie business.

It was a pleasure doing business here. The owner is friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about diving. But perhaps most memorable was his Aggie ring. Take a look.

The most well-loved Aggie ring I've ever seen.

That's a ring, my friends. He never takes it off. Class of '76. I have seen Aggie rings that have a bit of wear, rounded and polished here and there. They are typical on old Ags in their 80s. Not a young'un like Darrel here. I had to document it. With his permission, of course. 

Darrel Rhyne, Owner - Funky Li'l Diveshop. Proud Aggie.

The drive back was torture and began with Aquaman getting a speeding ticket just before we cleared the Balmorhea city limits. Mind your speed if you ever go out to these parts. It's pretty flat - just you and the tumbleweeds (yes, we saw lots) so it's easy to go a lot faster than you think you are. This was ironic - Aquaman never speeds and I often complain about his Grandpa-esque driving habits. I will never complain again.  

After a whirlwind 48 hours, we have 3 certified SCUBA divers to call our very own. My dad would have referred to this as the Aggie Navy. An apt description, I'd say. 

Aggie Navy.

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